Sunday, December 16, 2007

Surviving Survivor

I got a job as a temp. I end up waking up around 5 a.m. and I start the workday at 7. For me, it's a battle to try and stay awake. I wrote most of the following on Friday, and I figured that it would be a waste not to share, especially with the season finale of Survivor: China minutes away.

As the fifteenth season of Survivor stumbles and stutters to its climax, I take solace that in the wake of the Mitchell Report, things could be a lot worse. After all, steroids aren’t a factor on competitive reality programs. Then again, there was that one time during Inferno II where Landon’s neck veins were bulging out in a suspicious manner. And Mike was always a wannabe wrestler, and we all know most grapples can be all about the needles. Well, that and the mysterious deaths, but that’s another entry.

Not that Survivor: China couldn’t use the excitement. Sadly, the fall seasons pale in comparison to the editions following them, with the exceptions being Pearl Islands (introduction of Rupert Boneham, the most overrated player ever; Jon Dalton and his attention-grubbing ways; wussy boy Osten Taylor, who ended up quitting the game, the return of Burton Roberts and Lillian Morris after their torches were snuffed, and the latter’s thorough spanking of Dalton in the final immunity challenge) and Cook Islands (Yul Kwon’s brains, Ozzy Lusth’s athleticism, Jonathan Penner whacking Jeff Probst’s ego like a pinata, the outnumbered Aitu tribe that overcame a 6-4 disadvantage to make it to Day 38). With a second “all-star” edition set to air in a few months, it feels like we’ve been running out the clock, as we speculate on which players would make the cut, waiting in anticipation to see the “best” or “most worthy” battle it out . . . and how bad things will be, especially after the horror that was Survivor: All-Stars in 2004. I’m still surprised that Susan Hawk didn’t luge for Richard Hatch’s neck at the reunion; the only thing between those two was Rob Cesternino, and I bet even an 80-pound girl like Courtney could plow through him, to say nothing of a truck-drivin’ bruiser like Sue.

So what happened this season? Well, the casting skewed young, and that resulted in me being unable to tell most of the people apart . . . and it didn’t help that the more recognizable personalities got booted early, like old farmer Chicken, WWE “Diva” Ashley, Dave the total Section 8 case. There wasn’t really one bandwagon that fans could board at any time. For instance, James was a very buff dude who cracked wise a lot, but he tended to act like an asshole around the others, and he wasn’t that big of a threat in individual contests. Todd became the latest Mormon to shame his religion on reality television, as he took great pains to portray himself as a poor man’s Richard Hatch. While Todd claimed Hatch’s gameplay and sexuality as his own, poker player Jean-Robert grabbed the rest: ego, hairline, facial hair, and gut. Amanda? I never got a grip of who she was. I didn’t think she rode Todd’s coattails so much as she trailed a half-step behind him, waiting to use him as a shield at a moment’s notice. As for other players such as Frosti, Erik, Peih-Gee, Courtney and Denise, I never sensed that they would end up winning, since the editing skewed towards Amanda and Todd.

There were some memorable moments, like Todd essentially giving both hidden immunity idols to James, and then having the gall to wine on-camera about how James should have offered to give one back. Then Jaime grabbed a plaque that she figured could be an idol, and she attempted to play it during Tribal Council. The result: Jeff declared it not to be an idol, and tossed it into the fire, giving the assembled contestants a good laugh. Contrary to what a certain recapper griped about, I didn’t feel the message was, “Durr, Jaime so stupid!” For one thing, any hidden idol in past seasons came with instructions. For another, Jaime and Peih-Gee threw an immunity challenge in order to vote out Aaron – whom they booted over James, both of them having transferred from Fei Long to Zhan Hu – and I viewed this as sweet comeuppance. Actually, James did try to botch things on his own, pretending to hesitate on eating balut, but Denise gagged on her plate, and James reluctantly finished to help Zhan Hu to a win. Yes, it has been that sort of a season.

Anyway, James ended up getting voted off after failing to utilize either idol, earning everybody else the right to yell “JACKASS!” at him for as long as they can remember his screw-up. I thought it would open up the field, but Denise’s unwillingness to budge from the status quo resulted in Erik’s departure. Honestly, aside from him admitting to Jaime that he was a virgin, are we even going to remember him this time next year? With Peih-Gee’s boot on Thursday, we’re down to three days remaining and four players: Todd, Amanda, Courtney and Denise. I figure that Amanda is the odds-on favorite to win because she’s ticked off the least amount of people. If she gets voted off, Todd stands the best chance of winning. Courtney is a longshot at best. I’d say she’s wasted away to nothing, but that’s how she started the game. At one point, she got cuddly with Frosti, and I was hoping they’d get affectionate enough for him to play her exposed ribs like a xylophone. The worst moment from Courtney came after Todd’s sister came over for a family-reuniting reward challenge, and she revealed that their younger sister had suffered a miscarriage. Courtney wasn’t the only one to speculate on whether the story was true; Jon Dalton and his friend’s lie about a dead grandmother still looms large four years after it happened. But Courtney escalated this in an interview where she openly mocked the idea. I feel that was a unbelievably stupid move on her part. First, I consider Todd to be a different species of jackass than Dalton. Secondly, it’s not wise for somebody who can be knocked back by a stiff breeze to disrespect a story like that, especially with a reunion to be had months later, where the aggrieved party will undoubtedly get front-row seats.

Finally, there’s Denise. Sweet, kind, unable-to-rock-the-boat Denise. In the teaser promo for the finale, each finalit got a nickname. Todd was “The Schemer,” Amanda got “The Chameleon,” and Courtney became “The Longshot.” Denise? She was “The Lunch Lady.” She received minimal exposure through most of the game; all we could see was her mullet, which she’d try to put in a ponytail. In key twists in voting, she was usually left out of the loop. She’s won two reward challenges, but the first was with the help of her husband, and the second was given to her by Courtney, who kept misfiring with a Chinese crossbow and hitting Denise and Todd’s targets. She was a guest of Peih-Gee’s in a reward that took them and Erik to a Shaolin temple, while Denise showed her black belt karate skills to the local kids. However, Denise left Peih-Gee out of her rewards, mostly to keep Peih-Gee weak. Sadly, Peih Gee ended up getting her bitch out, and it wasn’t pretty.

Lately, I’ve been reading forum posts, and I can’t understand the amount of hatred for Denise. Okay, so she’s not strategically-inclined. She could have joined Peih-Gee and Erik to force a tie against the Amanda/Courtney/Todd troika, but she stuck with her tribal alliance. She seems to play not to win, but to finish fourth. Here’s my question: what’s wrong with that? I mean, let’s say either she wins immunity on Day 38 or Amanda does not, and the others turn on Amanda. Even with a jury full of embittered assholes and bitches (and Frosti, who doesn’t fit either description) who would hate the idea of somebody who “coasted” to the finale, would you tell me that Todd or Courtney would fare any better? Besides, there’s no way a Denise win should be considered to be worse than Jenna Morasca winning The Amazon. Also worse: Amber Brkich winning All-Stars, especially when she functioned mainly as Jerri Manthey’s sidekick during The Australian Outback and wasn’t really a star, let alone an all-star. Amber won because Rob Mariano carried her, and Rob advanced as far as he did because most of the other players were morons and stooges.

In the end, Todd will get the final boot, Amanda will win, Courtney and Denise will be lucky to get one vote apiece, and Jeff Probst will do everybody short of fellating James at the reunion. And we can move on with our lives and to what really matters: the rest of The Amazing Race 12.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Those Amazing Donkeys

This past May, I watched in horror as two jackasses – Eric Sanchez and Danielle Turner – won The Amazing Race All-Stars, completing one of the show’s most ill-conceived, ill-planned, and ill-cast seasons.

This past Sunday, I watched in amusement as donkeys stalled two of the more irritating teams in The Amazing Race 12, eliminating one of them in the process. Suddenly, the rampant pessimism I have for the show has mostly dissipated.

It’s not easy being a TAR fan. Survivor remains the gold standard for CBS; you know there will be two installments airing every season and on Thursday nights. By comparison, TAR gets shuffled around a lot. The last few seasons, it got run on Sunday nights. That doesn’t seem too bad, until the fall rolls around, and NFL games starts going past 7 p.m. Then you’d have to wait for that to end, they endure 60 Minutes before TAR starts up. Hell, it didn’t even make the schedule this season, as it got confined to limbo, waiting for a show to drop dead in order to fill the slot.

On Monday, October 22, CBS mercifully put a bullet into Viva Laughlin and announced that TAR’s twelfth season would air in its place. On Tuesday, the first promo was spotted on YouTube. On Wednesday, the cast was announced. Makes me wonder why Viva was scheduled in the first place, since even the dimmest of bulbs would know that a drama with singing and dancing wasn’t going to fly too far.

As much as I like TAR, I have to say that casting has been crap the last few seasons. Too many alpha male teams, too many female duos that looked too much alike, and so many headaches to be had. Even the all-star season led to second-guessing. For instances, should frat brothers Kevin O’Conner and Drew Feinberg, the heroes of the original edition, have run the race despite Drew being banged-up before he fell down in the first leg? Was it that important to cast the underachieving David & Mary Conley a second time? And as far as mixing and matching Racers, the producers could have done a lot better than Eric & Danielle, particularly since a. Danielle didn’t run well the last time (fourth eliminated with best friend Danni in the ninth season), and b. people in the know noted that Eric wasn’t that into girls in the first place. Put it another way: the biggest casting coup for the show was not bringing in Dick & Daniele Donato. The noxious father/daughter duo had applied for TAR, but wound up on Big Brother 8 instead, claiming to be “estranged.”

Of course, the casting for this season doesn’t look that flawless. For one thing, over half of the cast comes from California. There’s also a lot of dating couples, bringing back memories of the third season. They even had a gay guy/straight girl team in Ari & Staella that resembled the terminally bitchy Aaron & Arianne. If the Race had taken them somewhere warm, I would’ve been ready for Staella to go topless in a cab, screaming, “Girls gone wild!!” just as Arianne did in Mexico.

There are some nicely-baited hooks, though. Nicolas & Donald are the show’s first grandchild/grandparent team. Kate & Pat got the biggest double take from fans since they’re official label is “Married Minsters.” They’re both women, by the way. I can’t stop grinning anytime I think “Lesbian Ministers!” And yet, in the online promo, Kate called the show “a love letter to the planet.” So yes...I’m a fan. One team I’ve hated at first sight, however, are the goths...or should I say, “goths.” After the nightmare that was pseudo-hippie douchebags BJ & Tyler three seasons ago, my threshold for phonies is pretty damn low. When I saw the “goths” in the promo, the guy called the girl “Vixen,” and I figured, “I bet she spells it with a ‘Y’.” I was wrong...she spells it “Vyxsin.” And his name is “Kynt.” And they showed up to the starting line in pink tops with black stripes, like they were caught in an explosion at Hot Topic. And their introductory footage had them frolicking in a cemetery. And they make comments like how they’re “gothic Energizer bunnies” and “Oh my goth!” Either they’re the biggest phonies this show has ever had, or the goth scene in Louisville is unbelievably weak.

Another concern I have is more about the long-term: piss-poor leg planning. Too many sponsor shoutouts and needle-in-haystack tasks are aggravating to watch. So far, we’ve gotten one quirky Roadblock (one Racer rides a bicycle on a high wire almost 200 feet over the North Atlantic while the other sits below, suspended by the bike) and a task where teams have to take peat, load it onto donkeys, and go to the next route marker. Anytime you bring in animals on this show, whether it be gentle orangutans, mine-sniffing rodents or noisy camels, you have the makings of a party.

It was at that time where two donkeys, sent from the heavens, decided to stall. The first halted on Ari & Staella, even as Ari threatened to cut into the beast of burden and eat it. The other slowed down on Jennifer & Nathan, one of the dating teams. Their deal is that he more or less cheated on her, and there’s lots of tension between them. In other words, a Top 3 team, guaranteed. But they couldn’t handle their ass, and team after team whizzed by them and Ari & Staella. In the history of TAR, there’s never been a team that went out first which would have been a problem for viewers in future episodes. We had teams that invoked indifference (Matt & Ana, John & Scott), nice teams that seemed ill-prepared for the long haul (Gina & Sylvia, Debra & Steve, the Black family), and teams whose early departures were a crying shame (Deidre & Hillary, Avi & Joe, Ryan & Chuck, Bilal & Sa’eed, John Vito & Jill), but never an appalling team. And yet, here were two of the stubbornest donkeys around, honking and braying their respective teams into oblivion. I have to say, it was awesome.

Eventually, Jennifer & Nathan managed to get their donkey moving and finish tenth. Ari & Staella, on the other hand (or hoof), got the first elimination. Maybe this is an omen for the remainder of the season. Maybe it’s just pure luck that events shook out the way they did. But as Survivor: China staggers to what will probably be an unsatisfactory conclusion, The Amazing Race has gotten off to a great start. Here's hoping the jackasses that walk on two legs don't screw it up.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

TAR Stars: Loathing & More Loathing

“What if.” That’s the most annoying and haunting question anybody can ask. You wonder if you should have zigged instead of zagged, gone down instead of up. For The Amazing Race: All-Stars, you can’t help but to ask that question over and over.

What if John Vito and Jill had better navigational skills? What if Drew didn’t fall down and go boom? Better yet, since he had gotten injured in a fight where he works as a court officer, what if the producers had the chance to replace him and Kevin with a healthy, popular team?

What if David & Mary weren’t a television exec’s dream come true, two Kentuckians going into the world for the first team. What if Rob & Amber hadn’t had the leg from hell, breaking their lucky streak in Argentina? What if Uchenna & Joyce had played conservatively in leaving Poland, not going for broke when they had a lead? What if Oswald & Danny had elected to make the noodles instead of going for the nostalgia trip with the dragon drum?

Most importantly, what if producers Bertram Van Munster and Elise Doganieri decided not to cast two people who had originally race as parts of separate teams? Well, we probably would have been spared one of the most depressing endings in the history of The Amazing Race.

You can probably imagine the mood at TARCon as Eric & Danielle arrive on the mat for the win. Save for a few wiseasses, I don’t think anybody wanted those two to triumph. Like I said before, I would rather have wanted beauty queens Dustin & Kandice to win, or Charla & Mirna. How upset was I? While venting to my camera, I actually said that I would have wanted Ramber to have won. And I said that with a straight face.

And how did the Stink and the Pink pull off the win? By winning one of the dumbest tasks created since a mere deep dish Chicago pizza stood in the way of Freddy and Kendra’s million bucks. One person from each team would answer four questions on what they thought of other racers, then enter numbers into an electronic safe. Then the other person would look at the questions and try to guess the combination. And Danielle finally does something right for once, as she get the combination before the others could. Next thing I know, Phil’s congratulating Stink & Pink, and butthead Jeremy’s giving his boy Eric love over the phone. I responded the only way I knew how: lots of booing and a middle finger. I don’t care if it was immature. So is Eric.

In the end, Eric & Danielle will go down as one of the luckier teams in the show’s history. They are the first pair to win only one leg en route to total victory. All this with Eric treating Danielle like crap more than half the time. Even worse, in an “Elimination Station” interview on, John Vito & Jill were happy with the end result, because Danielle is from Staten Island like them. First of all, I’m from Staten Island (or “The Rock,” as JV calls it), and I sure as hell wasn’t happy. Secondly, if JVJ had faced Eric & Danielle in any event, they probably would have smoked the Stink and the Pink. If you’ve seen Jill on TAR3, you know exactly what I mean. That girl was all but fearless going through four continents. One time, she fell down and didn’t even give herself time to go “boom” before picking herself up and running. Basically, Danielle is the anti-Jill. And John Vito cannot tell me that he would be applauding Eric and not think, “Man, I can take this guy. I really, really could.” To think...of all the Islanders to get on reality shows, the good (JVJ and Drew, Nitro G, Stacy Carmona from Murder In Small Town X) and the bad (Island-born Nathan from Survivor: Cook Islands, Danni from my alumnus Wagner College, the various guidos from both of MTV’s True Life episodes based on the Island)...and Danielle was the first to win? Damn.

Eric & Danielle entered TAR as losers, and they leave as losers with $1 million between them. They have confirmed that they are no longer a couple, which means that Danielle is free to date guidos from Staten Island, and Eric is free to date...guidos from Staten Island. Hey, I’ve heard stuff about his preferences. I did laugh at one forum poster who were torn as to what Eric would buy with his share of the money: two $250,000 hookers, or 250,000 $2 hookers. Mean? Yes. Sick? Probably. But if it helps me through to the start of TAR12, I won’t mind
That’s all for the venting. Next time, I’ll go over the pomp and circumstance of TARCon, the best way for me to take the pain away.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Countdown to TARCon

"It could be worse."

This is what I keep thinking. I’m heading to TARCon tomorrow night, where the diehard fans of The Amazing Race convene for the season finale, and I keep thinking that, over and over, a mantra to keep away the thought of another dismal finish. Through crappy eliminations, poorly-planned legs, and Danielle’s barely concealed cleavage, I keep thinking: "It could be worse."

With the exception of Survivor: Fiji, The Amazing Race: All-Stars is a better reality show to watch than anything else. The Apprentice? Totally irrelevant at this point. American Idol? Hijacked by a voting bloc dedicated to keeping the less-talented in contention. Dancing With The Stars? I don’t follow that, but the phone voting raises the same questions as AI, especially with Master P – a rapper with all the mobility of a tree – lasting a few episodes too long two seasons back. The Real World: Denver? Fighting, fornicating, and the biggest psycho ever seen in the form of Brooke. Road Rules: Viewers Revenge? If I get started on that show and the all-new, all-ugly Axis of Ass, I will never stop. So yeah...even at its worse, The Amazing Race is still the superior reality program to watch.

The finale still has the prospect of being very painful. We start with Charla & Mirna, the quarreling cousins. These two hail from the show’s fifth season, where the producers went for broke and gave viewers enough gaudy contestants to get viewers’ attention, like beauty queens and a Big Brother runner-up with her dummy boyfriend. The big draw of Charla & Mirna was Charla being a little person. They performed well enough in TAR5, securing several second-place finishes before their elimination. The big problem wasn’t Charla’s height, but the space between Mirna’s ears. Sadly, these two haven’t improved much in their second go-round, starting with three straight eighth-place finishes before they managed to catch fire. Mirna still seems intent on making everybody miserable, she still puts on broken accents, and she still insists on being pushy to everybody she meets. As much as people adore Charla, they seem oblivious to her not being much better than her kooky cousin. There’s Mirna putting the squeeze on an airline agent...and there’s Charla underneath the desk. The cousins (or "Charla & Snarla," as I like to think of them) have gotten too lucky for too long...and yet, they’re a far better alternative as winners than the next team.

Meet Eric & Danielle. In the ninth season, Eric was running with best buddy Jeremy, while Danielle floundered and faltered with Danni. Apparently, Eric’s juvenile flirting rubbed off on Danielle, and they became a ugly, loud, eyeroll-inducing couple. These two are the latest in a very long line of racing couples that bicker and nag at each other while going deeper and deeper into the race. Eric hasn’t evolved at all from his first season, he doesn’t seem to be in sync with his partner, and he takes things too seriously. When they were Yielded by Dustin & Kandice, he got pissy, calling them "dirty pirate hookers." Ron Burgandy, this idiot isn’t. He pitched a similar fit when they were Yielded later, this time by Oswald & Danny. From what I heard, his biggest rant didn’t make the cut on television, but it was very ugly. Danielle races and acts as well as she did the first time: poorly, and with barely-covered breasts. Worse yet, she’s from my home borough of Staten Island, which has yet to field a winner in any reality show. Sadly, Danielle is closer to that goal than John Vito & Jill, the darling and hot team from TAR3 who displayed the same sense of direction as in their first go-round, getting eliminated first this season. Nine times out of ten, Jill would hand Danielle her ass on a platter, but I guess we’ll never see my hypothesis tested.

By process of elimination, I feel the need to root for beauty queens Dustin & Kandice, who placed fourth in TAR10. Back then, they raced competently enough that Phil Keoghan kept bugging them about their chances for becoming the first all-female team to win the race. They wound up placing behind Lyn & Karlyn, two women who had zero business finishing third. Then again, if that didn’t happen, they wouldn’t have gotten an invite to appear on The Early Show, they wouldn’t have come to TARCon with several older women in their entourage, and I wouldn’t have seen at least one of them rock out to "Sweet Home Alabama" playing on the jukebox. Anyway, both teams feuded, and the beauty queens kept calling their rivals the "sistas." Ugly? Sure...but I figured maybe Lyn & Karlyn reminded the queens of the fellas who raped Andy in The Shawshank Redemption. This season, Dustin & Kandice have raced well enough with a few bobbles here and there. Why root for them? They have four leg wins (to two from Charla & Mirna and zlich from Stink & Pink), they race competently enough, and I finally found a mnemonic to tell them apart (Kandice: girlier name, curlier hair). Sure, the "all-female" title was taken by the winners of the inaugural season of The Amazing Race: Asia, but I’d put my money on the beauty queens.

As you can tell, I just want this season to be over...and even then, I’m dreading CBS dropping an "America’s Choice" fan vote, where the overhyped and overrated get big money (lookin’ at you, Rupert). Sure, the good moments weren’t that many (Ramber’s colossal flameout, Charla in knight’s armor falling down twice, any moment with Oswald & Danny where they weren’t sweating a task). Yeah, this season couldn’t really be called "the best of the best," especially with David & Mary and a banged-up Drew running. And the redemption of teams of Team Guido and Teri & Ian got cut off as they got eliminated (as least the Guidos get to take part in the celebration this time, instead of being stranded some 4,000 miles away). In summary, this won’t go down as the best season in the show’s history. Heck, some folks actually consider it to be the worse.

So why am I pumped up for this show? Because my aderaline gets pumping watching every week. Because I learn new stuff at every location shown. Because I end up caring who stays in the game and who gets eliminated. Because Phil Keoghan kicks the ass of every other reality show host. And because thanks to TARCon, I know that I’ll never be alone in watching this show and taking it too seriously. No matter who wins tomorrow night, I know that I’ll have fun either way.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

TAR Stars: Frats All, Folks

Q. What's worse that watching one of your favorite teams become the first team eliminated?

A. Watching one of your favorite teams get eliminated in one extremely painful episode.

Back during TAR1, Kevin & Drew were the "it" team of the season. Yeah, Rob & Brennan seemed nice, and Frank & Margarita's relationship made for compelling drama, but the Frats were funny, savy and successful. Their feud with Team Guido felt like a battle between good and evil, right up until their final fight in the streets of Beijing, where the Guidos pulled victory from the jaws of defeat. At that time, TAR fans figured there couldn't be a worse elimination scene.

Cut to last Sunday. Drew had fallen down in the previous leg. He suffered altitude sickness, requiring oxygen treatment during the twelve-hour eat/sleep/mingle period. There was a report that Drew had been hurt in his job as a court officer when he got involved in a brawl. So there he is at the pit stop mat, walking away from Phil as the host was ready to drop the elimination boot. All Drew wanted was something to cover his head. Given the two legs he and Kevin had run, he might have wanted a paper bag instead.

In the last few weeks, the TAR-based threads on Television Without Pity's forums have been peppered with cries of "Why did they go on the show if Drew wasn't healthy?" and "I never saw the first season...what did people see in these jokers?" I can forgive those posters...TAR1 was a great time, and I can't recommend getting the DVD enough, even if it means waiting until it was half-off like I did. But as the Frats tried to claw their way to the middle of an increasingly dysfunctional pack, they shot themselves in the foot. The worst part was Kevin driving 40 kilometers per hour. That wasn't so bad, but they had missed the sign saying that they could increase their speed. While other teams whizzed past them, the Frats were sizing them up for time penalties. The worst part was the editors going back to a "50 kph" sign over and over. It's a tact used to make teams look stupid, and it's like hitting a bad puppy with a rolled-up newspaper.'s the Frats getting smacked. That just feels wrong to me. I'm biased as hell towards the Frats, so I can never be impartial.

Since I hate myself, I watched Lynn & Alex's commentary on Reality Remix. They were outraged...OUTRAGED!...that Drew walked away. Along with host Kennedy (yeah, she's still around), they bayed for Drew to show some respect. At the end of the segment, they pointed out how Kevin & Drew cheated on the Roadblock. "When you cheat and lose," one of them snarked, "you suck!" I agree, but I have a few corrections:

1. The Roadblock was performed by Kevin, not Kevin & Drew.

2. Kevin didn't intentionally cheat...when Mary gave her answer to the guy handing out the clues, she actually said the correct answer out loud. The thing with Mary is that neither she nor husband David are smart Racers. While I argue with the notion that they are to TAR what Rupert Boneham was to Survivor, I agree that these two should never have been invited back.

3. Lynn & Alex couldn't carry Drew's jock. They're scumbags. They all but accused Amber of having anorexia, and now they're praising Ramber's racing skills. Are they hypocrites, or are they following orders since Ramber has a show on Fox Reality? They gave shit to the lovely organizers of TARCon. And the worst offense? I heard they made fun of Carissa Gaghan trying to hold back the tears when her family got eliminated in TAR8. And now they're misrepresenting what happened just to be vicious. I'd tell them both to go to hell, but since they're on Fox Reality, I'd say they're already there.

Wow...I guess I disagreed with the analysis after all.

I have the right to be cranky. Not only did I see another nice team go, but now Danielle is the only Staten Islander left...and she didn't deserve to be running in the first place. Also, David & Mary continue to suck, Mirna is back to being a shrill harpy, and even Charla had a huge fit. Over what? I don't remember. All I remember was they were following a cab, Dustin & Kandice were following them, and next thing I know, Charla and Mirna are screaming at the cabbie and genuflecting like crazy. If they're not out in the next two episodes, I will be shocked.

And yes, freakin' Ramber won another leg...I think they're the first team to win the first two legs. On the bright side, Oswald & Danny finished a strong second again. A few weeks ago, I pointed out how players who won all-star editions of Big Brother and Survivor hailed from the second seasons of their respective shows. Now chew on this: Kevin & Drew were fan favorites from the first season of TAR, and they were the second team eliminated. Rudy Boesch was the fan favorite of the original Survivor, and he was the second person eliminated. Hey, with my two favorite teams gone, I have to take whatever joy I can get.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

TAR Stars: The First Cut Is The Deepest

Happier times: JVJ & Me, TARCon4 (2003)

While I was writing my post on Sunday, I was aware that something could go wrong with the first episode of The Amazing Race: All-Stars. In each season, there's never a team that you knew you could do without. We had somewhat blah pairs (Matt & Ana, Scott & John), nice folks who probably would've been toast if they lasted longer (Deidre & Hillary, Gina & Sylvia, Debra & Steve), and fun duos whose absence in subsequent legs made their seasons a little less fun (Avi & Joe, Ryan & Chuck, Vipul & Arti). Also, there were Dennis & Erika (the formerly engaged couple, she liked to skydive naked), the Black Family of Family Edition (perhaps the most unfortunately surrnamed team in reality show history) and Bilal & Sae'ed (cut out of TAR10 in the middle of the leg).

So there I was, painfully aware that a team I had liked in the past might be the first to be sent packing. I had the Frats, the Chas, the Guidos (had them to win) and Uchenna & Joyce (they did slay Ramber two years ago). The team that got eliminated first? Naturally, it was John Vito & Jill, the ones closest to me. And the worst part? They basically went out the same way as they did in their last outing

Here's the thing about JVJ: they showed strength in TAR3, as well as mental stability (looking at you, Flo), but they constantly bled time throughout the race. Some of it wasn't totally their fault, but they had lots of navigational problems. The biggest turning point came in the ninth leg. After finishing last in the previous episode, they went for the Fast Forward. You could see the wheels turning in their minds: Get the Fast Forward, win the leg, and don't worry about elimination for another two legs. Up until that point, there had never been back-to-back nonelimination legs.

JVJ broke off from the other four teams, hit a cabin in the Swiss Alps, and ate blocks of cheese to uncover the location of the Pit Stop. It seemed like everything was going to plan...until Flo & Zach got the break they needed when they didn't get eliminated. In the following leg, the teams went to Malaysia, JVJ struggled with the Detour, and couldn't catch up to Teri & Ian to the Pit Stop. As a result, JVJ got eliminated, and it was the start of the fall of TAR3...but that's another story.

Back to the current season: JVJ reached their bags first. They got to the ticket counter first, and they figured out that the flight that departed second would arrive in Ecucador first. At the end of the day, they managed to be in the front of the pack. Even better, in the "other teams talk about Rob & Amber" segment of the show, John Vito gave us this: "I've had enough of Rob & Amber, and I think that America may have also." As if I couldn't love the big fella any more than I already did.

The next day, the teams were let go in three groups, fifteen minutes apart. They had to go to Cotopaxi Park and make it to Hacienda Yanahurco...ideally at the north entrance. Rob & Amber and Oswald & Danny (the eventual top two teams for this leg) went for the same tact: speak Spanish and get taxis for themselves to follow. JVJ found a guy for him and Jill to follow. Eventually, JVJ finds out that they've been going the wrong way. While this is going on, every other team makes it to the park, and JVJ hit the south entrance. It came down to a race between JVJ and a struggling Kevin & Drew to not get eliminated...and since three people in there are Staten Islanders and proven fan favorites, I get depressed. If the editing is to be believed, the Frats managed to get to the Pit Stop before JVJ even got to the Detour. And just like that, my heart gets shattered every bit as bad as when they got eliminated the first time.

On Monday, I forced myself to watch Reality Remix, with commentary from unfunny and bitchy gay couple Lynn & Alex. They claimed that JVJ was the only team they didn't know about. So they knew who Teri & Ian were, but not JVJ? How does that work? They likened JVJ to the expendable slutty girl that gets killed off in horror movies. Then then declared that Kevin & Drew will be eliminated next, labelling them "the fat guys" and, according to Lynn, "they're going to roll themselves right off the track." As you can tell, I love to make myself suffer. Happily, the producers didn't want to punish their viewers by casting those twits, so they're stuck on Fox Reality where they belong.

It's been tough rooting for John Vito & Jill. First came the heart-breaking elimination in TAR3. Then came the news that they were no longer a couple. I mean, if the lovey-doviest couple around couldn't make it work, then what hope did the rest of us have? When I saw John Vito at TARCon9, I couldn't ask him for details. It wasn't any of my business, and I didn't have the stomach to ask if JV was dating Erika, or if he brought her to the party as a friend. And now, I have to settle for watching JVJ on "Elimination Station" on, where viewers can check out eliminated teams as they're sequestered. Seeing them wander the grounds by themselves was painful to watch, and I'm pretty sure they're not going to become a couple again. It's like have a favorite aunt and uncle divorce; they're cool as singles, but you can't imagine them apart, and you wouldn't want to do that. As a heterosexual guy, I should be thrilled that Jill is on the market (as far as I know), but she looked so much better with John Vito than she would with me.

There was a lot more to the first episode, but I'm not in the mood to going over Rob & Amber coming out in front yet again, Teri & Ian finishing in the top three (something they needed eight legs to achieve on their own merits in TAR3), David & Mary freakin' fawning over Ramber and finishing behind eighth-place Charla & Mirna (didn't finish below fifth until their elimination in TAR5), and poor Drew getting banged up as he and Kevin finished in tenth. Right now, JVJ is gone, and The Amazing Race: All-Stars is poorer for it.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Return

I'm back. Not that anybody cares. Hell, I didn't care for the longest time. I never wanted to be somebody who would blog every day, regardless of how crappy I felt at the time.

I guess apathy played a huge part...I started this blog after I was tossed out by a certain reality-based website, and the need to recap faded away over time. Meanwhile, those really noxious ogres still chug along. When I read their yearly recap and saw they rated Will Kirby and Mike Malin over the likes of Survivor superstars Yul Kwon and Cirie Fields, I almost threw up. Then again, in last year's edition, not only did they not put Tom Westman -- the ass-kicking silver fox who dominated Survivor: Palau -- in their top 40 personalities list, they inserted Wanda Shirk. Remember her? Lasted about 36 hours on the show? So at least the dopes running the site are improving.

I've been keeping busy. For one thing, I'm freelancing for a free bimonthly magazine whose head honcho loves my work. Also, I'm gearing up for next weekend's New York Comic Con. You might have heard about their disasterous debut last year, when the fire marshall shut the place down for an hour or two, where people who had their tickets paid in advance were turned away, and where I found myself in a pissed-off mob, pressed against a wall, wondering if it was worth it to have gone to McDonald's before the proverbial fecal matter hit the fan. The good news is that there will be more room in the Javits Center to manuever. The potential bad news? The plans were made before folks like Stephen Colbert and Hayden Panettiere (Claire Bennet from Heroes) signed on. All it takes is for Masi Oka screaming "YATTA!" in a panel room, and everybody gets locked out again.

The real reason I'm writing is because the latest edition of The Amazing Race debuts tonight. This time, it's an "all-star" season, which doesn't bode well, given the past history of similar editons of established CBS shows. I'll ignore Big Brother, since that's the Special Olympics of the genre. Any show where a grown man who asks people to call him "Boogie" wins $500,000 is not that important. Survivor: All-Stars was crap from beginning to end, what with a naked Richard grinding on Susan's ass, Susan's subsequent freakout about it followed by her departure, and Amber and Rob taking on the likes of Jenna, Tom and Rupert. Look at those last three names. Do any of them strike you as the least bit intelligent? For me, the season peaked with Shii Ann holding off elimination by winning immunity, followed by her rubbing it in the other contestants' faces and calling them "stupid, stupid people" in an interview. Even if she wasn't the snarky "Shii Devil" I grew to love on Survivor: Thailand, I couldn't argue with her.

Anyway, it took months of speculation before the offical cast list was announced. It was like waking up on Christmas morning and opening presents, with Kevin & Drew represented by the Wii, while the likes of Eric & Danielle and Teri & Ian were the tube socks with premade holes. A lot of teams rumored to be in the race missed the cut, such as Kris & Jon (brightest spot of the abymisal TAR6), Kelly & Jon (rumored to have passed) and Dave & Lori (the nerds from TAR9). The biggest guns missing were Colin & Christie, since she was pregnant. Chip & Kim didn't get invited, provoking the usually mellow Chip to have a snit fit (justified in my opinion). Don't get me started on the exclusion of Ken & Gerard, two of the funniest guys who still had hair on their heads, fleeting as that may be.

So who do we have to contend with starting tonight? Let's run down the Racers...

Dustin & Kandice: Easily the strongest all-female team in the show's history. Sadly, these beauty queens were bratty last season, and I can't tell them apart unless they're wearing their "NY" and "CA" shirts.

David & Mary: Everybody's pick to be the first team eliminated. While their "rural couple meets new people" storyline was cute, their racing skills were very poor, and Mary had a tendacy to crack the whip on her husband. Also, I saw a clip on The Early Show where they're at an airport book store, and they freakin' fawn over Rob & Amber. Dammit, didn't Roise O'Donnell get you some dignity to go along with your new house?!?

Eric & Danielle: They're the weird "mixed" team, as Jeremy and Dani sit this one out. While Eric & Jeremy did a decent job in TAR9, I do remember that Danielle & Dani didn't exactly strike fear in the hearts of other teams. On the other hand, at least they got an invite that BJ & Tyler may have recieved instead.

Uchenna & Joyce: The only winning team racing this season. While they're very athletic and focused, it took a small reality show miracle for them to win TAR7, and that was probably the result of Joyce getting her head shaved in India for that to happen. If Ramber ends up getting eliminated, the pressure will be off this couple.

Rob & Amber: Why? Okay, they did dominate TAR7 with a vengeance, and they deserved the spot. But I am so tired of seeing them. I'm tired of hearing stuff like "reality royalty" to describe them. And I am tired of Rob bitching and whining about how he was robbed of a million bucks the last time. Guess what, Robby? Second place looks so good on you! Deal with it!

Charla & Mirna: Another team that gets in on "popularity." Look, I have no beef with Charla's lack of size. Problem is, she keeps going on about how she can do stuff normal people can, and doing stuff like biting into hundreds of chocolates to find one with a white center isn't my idea of normal. But Charla's even more lovable compared to her cousin, who had half of the teams in TAR5 ready to kill her at the drop of a hat. I did hear about a new strategy of theirs: Charla has those kiddie shoes with the wheels in them, and Mirna will drag her whenever possible. That alone would be worth seeing them in action.

Teri & Ian: What galls me about these two is the revisionist history CBS is willing to teach about these two. The official site on calls them "one of the fan favorites from all the seasons of Race." Really? These two basically bickered their way through TAR3, lucked out in surviving each leg only when another team did worse, and managed to finish second, which was as big of a bummer as Flo & Zach winning. If I hear Ian yell "Time to hump!" or Teri break out the paper underwear, my head will make an appointment with the nearest wall.

John Vito & Jill: My people, and not just because I interviewed them way back in 2002. The team that didn't race well enough to thrive, but looked classy (and hot) doing it. However, these two are no longer a couple, and I'm not sure how that will affect them. All I hope for is that they remain civil to each other and to the other teams. And if they're still cool at the end and make the final episode, I might go to TARCon wearing the camo pants they love to sport.

Oswald & Danny: Better known as Team Cha-Cha-Cha, these fabulous gay guys ran TAR2 well, killing locals with kindness and managing to freak out their opponents with their zen-like racing tactics. Apparently, there was a falling out between the pair (not couple...never a couple), but they're back on good terms. They're probably going to bow out in the early going, but isn't that what some people thought the first that around? Besides, Amber came from the second season of Survivor and she won All-Stars, and Mike Malin also hailed from the second Big Brother...and Oswald & Danny are the only team from TAR2. Something to think about.

Joe & Bill: Am I crazy for thinking that "Team Guido" will win? I know they're the oldest team running this season, but their extensive travelling experience has to be an asset. With bunching more prevelant than in TAR1, the odds of a "Guido edit" (stranded in Alaska as the top two teams finished in New York) happening again are slim to none. Also, I don't think they'll be as evil as their first time out. I've met them a few times, and they don't seem to be mean-spirited and opposed to Richard Hatch, who's probably keeping that attitude up even in the slammer.

Kevin & Drew: The biggest "no-brainer" selection. The bald frat brothers parlayed their fame into guest spots on Rosie, their own reality show on the Discovery Channel (which I recapped), and handing out clues to teams on TAR8. These two weren't slouches in TAR1, winning three legs and staying in contention for most of the way. They're also responsible for some of the funniest lines in the show's history. I can't say how far they'll get this time around, but it should be a fun trip.

Hopefully, I'll get motivated enough to write about the new season as it runs. Also, I should go over my time at the NYCC, as well as the upcoming trip to The Colbert Report next Wednesday. Who knows...maybe I'll get to recapping the Challenge again. Yeah, right. Don't hold your breath on that.